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"Boondocks' to take six-month break

(Final edited version not provided for the electronic library. Please see microfilm.)

The Boondocks, a comic strip about a black family living in white suburbia, is going on vacation.

Aaron McGruder, the cartoonist behind the strip syndicated in about 350 U.S. newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times, said Tuesday that he would take about six months off beginning this month.

"Every well needs occasional refreshing," McGruder, 31, wrote in a letter to be sent to editors of newspapers carrying the strip. "I hope that this fall you will agree that the time away from the demands of deadlines has served the strip, your readers and me."

McGruder offered no further explanation and declined interviews. He has been doing double duty on Boondocks since last fall, when he brought it to the Cartoon Network as a weekly show.

His editor at Universal Press Syndicate, Greg Melvin, said McGruder simply needed a break.

"Deadlines are hard on everybody, but deadlines are especially hard on creative people," Melvin said. "When six months have passed, hopefully his batteries will be recharged."

The last new comic before the hiatus will appear March 26. Old Boondocks will be made available to papers, but the Times won't be running them.

"We know readers will miss Boondocks, which is a cutting-edge strip that a lot of people enjoy," said Mike Wilson, assistant managing editor/newsfeatures of the Times. "But we're looking forward to this chance to give our readers a few surprises and show them some of the exciting new comics on the market.

"We'll take another look at Boondocks when Aaron McGruder comes back from his break and make a decision then."

The Boondocks touches on racial issues, pop culture and politics as it chronicles the lives of Huey Freeman, his little brother, Riley, and their eccentric grandfather, who moved them from south Chicago to the suburbs. Its frequent criticism of subjects from the Bush administration to black television network BET has made it controversial.

McGruder created The Boondocks in 1997 while attending the University of Maryland. When it went national two years later, it became Universal Press' third-strongest launch of a strip, behind For Better or for Worse and Calvin and Hobbes, spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said. Since 2003, McGruder has relied on illustrators to draw his comic, focusing his efforts on the strip's writing and his Cartoon Network series.

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